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Spider goats - it was once the stuff of old science fiction B movies that flickered past us in black and white as some mad scientist's creation went out of control to wreak havoc on the human race. Now it is science without the fiction, and the results are much cuter.
Spider silk has long been sought as one of the strongest substances on earth. By weight it is stronger than steel and maintains this strength at extremely cold temperatures. At the same time it is also very elastic and can be stretched as much as two to four times its original length. Because of these qualities, scientists have long been searching for a way to create enough quantities to be used commercially. Spider silk could be used in a number of medical applications, including creating artificial ligaments, as well as bullet proof vests and body armor, and improved car airbags. However, one of the first applications of the silk may be as simple as fishing line.
Farming spiders for the silk was tried by placing spiders in old barns and letting them do their thing. Unfortunately, with spiders being very territorial, their thing was to kill and eat each other. This was a horrifying failure.
Researchers at the University of Wyoming took the gene for the golden orb spider's dragline silk and incorporated them into bacteria that are then injected into the embryos of several goats. This was designed so that the protein would come out in the goat's milk. The goats appear and act completely normally. To date, none of the goats has grown eight legs. The spider silk protein comes out in the goat's milk. By simply milking the goats the scientists can collect much larger quantities of the spider silk protein than ever before.
Once the milk is collected the silk protein is filtered out. It hardens when exposed to air and spun out onto a spool. The researchers collect about one meter of silk for each drop of milk. For more information, click here.
It all begs just one question: Got Silk?
Laurie Kay Olson
Animal News Blogger